Robert Lepage

Authored by: Karen Fricker

The Routledge Companion to Directors’ Shakespeare

Print publication date:  April  2010
Online publication date:  June  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415400442
eBook ISBN: 9780203932520
Adobe ISBN: 9781134146482


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‘If I do Shakespeare, I never really end up doing Shakespeare’, the Québécois director Robert Lepage said in 1995. ‘It’s so basic, with such universal themes, and in French, we rewrite it like we want, so […]: I never have the impression that I’m doing other people’s work’ (quoted in McAlpine 1996: 151). In its paradoxical blend of insouciant self-centredness and deference to intellectually unfashionable concepts such as ‘universality’, this is an articulation typical of Lepage and neatly sums up his production history with Shakespeare’s plays. Each of his major Shakespeare stagings has involved an intervention or twist of some kind, having to do with language (as with his 1993 Shakespeare Cycle in québécois ‘tradaptation’), a bold and unconventional production concept (such as his controversial mud-pit A Midsummer Night’s Dream at London’s National Theatre in 1992), or textual adaptation and interpretation so extreme that it literally reauthors the play (as with Elsinore, which toured internationally from 1995 to 1997). These various treatments, as Andy Lavender has argued, have the effect of ‘dislocation’ (2001: 102): spectators are encouraged to look at familiar texts in new ways and are reminded of their active position in the creation of the production’s meanings. This approach can be traced back in some part to the problematically post-colonial status of Lepage’s native Québec; his linguistic, interpretative and theatrical playfulness with Shakespeare is legible as a form of ‘canonical counter-discourse’ (Tiffin 1995: 97) through which former colonial subjects talk back to Empire via an irreverent treatment of sacred literary cows. At the same time, however, Lepage consistently traffics in the language of Shakespeare’s essential and timeless meanings but most so in order to frame Shakespeare as a springboard for his own creativity:

Dealing with Shakespeare, we’re dealing with an avalanche of resources, a box of toys to be taken out […] what’s so extraordinary about Shakespeare is that this man was so intuitive, he gives us the story of mankind. I think he offers a lot of permission to the actor, the translator, the director.

(Lepage and Eyre 1992b: 29)

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